A preventative approach by Foxton Beach lifeguards may well have saved the lives of several swimmers headed for trouble on Tuesday afternoon.

The group got into difficulty when they drifted outside the flags and were caught out of their depth in a deep trench between sand bars.

Surf lifesaver Teina Kiriona spotted four people who appeared to be trying to get to shore but were "not getting anywhere."

"They were quite far out and between the breakers, you could only catch a quick glimpse of them before they disappeared again," he said.

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Kiriona said one of the swimmers, a woman, looked particularly tired.

He alerted another lifeguard on duty, Druhan Stephens, who sprang into action, running down the beach and diving into the ocean to help the struggling group.

Kiriona said when he arrived in the boat one swimmer had made it to shore and two men were trying to support the tired woman.

"I don't think at the time they knew they were in trouble, but when we got there they knew they were pretty tired and weren't going to make it back in," he said.

"It was quite lucky that we spotted them when we did." Kiriona dived into the water and helped the woman swim to shore while Stephens took the other swimmers in on the boat.

Kiriona said if they hadn't acted when they did and responded straight away the swimmers may not have survived.

He urges swimmers to stay between the flags and keep to an appropriate depth.

"If you know you're not a confident swimmer, keep to the shallows where you can touch the ground."

Kiriona said that so far this season lifeguards have managed to intervene before situations escalated.

"If we see someone slowly drifting outside of the flags we get them and pull them back, preventing anything from happening," he said.

The Horowhenua District Council paid lifeguards to provide patrols between 11am and 6pm until the end of January.